Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Translation of Harry Potter

I may be one of the few people not to have read any of the Harry Potter books, but I nevertheless found this article by Daniel Hahn about translating J.K. Rowling’s work interesting.

He writes: “Of the 325 million Harry Potter books sold around the world, some 100 million copies don't contain a single line of JK Rowling’s prose. They’re mediated by the work of other writers who set the tone, create suspense and humour, and give the characters their distinctive voices and accents. The only thing these translators have no impact on whatsoever is the plot, which of course is Rowling’s alone.”

Frankly, I disagree with Mr. Hahn’s description. It’s rather melodramatic, and it makes it seem as though translations have very little in common with originals. The plot is the only thing he mentions, but most translators work very hard to recreate the same “tone,…suspense and humour” and other features of each text; if they are creating new tones or new kinds of suspense or humor, then it seems to me that the translation becomes a different book. Also, of course, some translators do unfortunately change the plot of books they work on. And in some cases, even if the translators don’t change the plot outright, some of the changes they have to make for linguistic or cultural reasons do of necessity affect the plot.

Mr. Hahn also touches on an issue that has been mentioned here before: the invisibility of the translator. He says: “The job of any translator requires that they be simultaneously present and absent; altogether sympathetically embedded in the work and yet totally invisible. And for the most part that invisibility is well maintained.” Today, some people disagree with this idea of translation and the related one of fluency. Personally, I wonder if the concept of in/visibility remains stronger in the translation of children’s literature than in that for adults.

At any rate, whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not, you might want to read about some of the special difficulties Ms. Rowling’s translators face, such as names and invented words. It’s also interesting to consider how today’s technology affects translation; Mr. Hahn mentions some of the requirements that making films out of these books imposes on the translators.

No comments: